How to Think Like a Neandertal

The complex lives of pre-humans, and what it means to you

Sigmund Freud and Alien Abduction Stories

How Freud’s theory of dreaming may explain alien abductions

“Are there, then dreams other than wish-dreams; or are there none but wish-dreams?” wrote Sigmund Freud in his classic 1900 book The Interpretation of Dreams. When asked about dreams where one views the death of a loved one, Freud posited that they might be disguised wish-fulfillment. For example, unconscious hostility towards that loved one might have been repressed into the unconscious because it was probably an unacceptable thought to the conscious ego. Because Freud had a kind of hydraulic view of emotions, repressed thoughts would arise in dreams when there was little conscious control (and in accidents and slips of the tongue). After the carnage of WWI and the dreams of returning veterans were often replete with this revisited horror, Freud finally admitted that perhaps sometimes dreams may not always be wish-fulfilling. Nonetheless, we all have in our own dream lives numerous anecdotal examples of wish-fulfilling dreams; of money, dead loved ones now alive, being able to dunk a basketball (OK, that’s mine, FLC), etc. So in a provocative study years ago, it was found that, on the whole, those who believed they had been abducted by aliens were no crazier, stranger, or neurotic than people who did not believe they had been abducted by aliens. Apparently the only characteristic that distinguished between the two groups was a belief in aliens in the alien abduction group.

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Young Sigmund Freud
Young Sigmund Freud

Thus, it is possible that people who believe in aliens may merely be experiencing Freudian wish-fulfilling dreams about aliens. There are at least three reasons that may aid in the plausibility of this hypothesis; (1) the reports of alien abductions are often during the night when a person could be dreaming. Of course, people may take naps at any point in the day, so they could dream about aliens at any time but predominantly aliens appear to have a preference for abductions when it’s dark and when people are sleeping in the dark; (2) because some of the more logical and critical-thinking parts of our brains (i.e., dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) are inactive during dream sleep, we rarely challenge the notion that when we are dreaming, they are simply dreams and not real. We are frightened by scary things, we are sad by unhappy things, and we are joyful when happy things occur in our dreams. Thus, in a wish-fulfilling dream of aliens, it would be highly unusual if we challenged the reality of finally meeting aliens in our dreams; and (3) it is interesting that so many alien-abduction reports contain stories of being paralyzed by the aliens. The paralysis is consistent with the well-established finding that REM sleep is accompanied by muscle atonia (i.e., muscle paralysis), which appears to be an evolutionarily evolved device to keep humans from acting out their dreams during REM sleep.

 

Note that his wish-fulfilling dreams hypothesis does not account for the rare whole group of people’s reports of being abducted by aliens. However, those reports and single-person reports should be taken with caution, as the desire for wealth, fame, attention, and mass delusions cannot be entirely discounted in these cases. After all, the latter explanations (desire for money, fame, etc.) seem slightly more probable than an alien abduction. This blog will not address the reports of anal probing by aliens or alien impregnations. We (FLC & TW) recently visited Vienna for a human evolution conference, and we visited Sigmund Freud’s home at 19 Bergstrasse. It seems some Freudian ideas, though he has been dead now for nearly 75 years, remains as relevant as ever.

Thomas Wynn, Ph.D. and Frederick L. Coolidge, Ph.D. are coauthors of How To Think Like a Neandertal.

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